It's time for a national 'workflex' policy

The well-intentioned Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which took effect earlier this year, ensures paid leave options for many employees. However, it also creates unintended roadblocks for employers like mine, Continental Realty Corporation (CRC), which already provides more generous paid leave benefits than required under the law.

How is this possible, you might ask?

Well, while CRC provided more paid leave than the Maryland law requires (48 hours vs. 40 hours) and a larger “carryover” to the following year (80 hours vs. 64 hours), our accrual policy was structured in a way that did not technically comply with certain provisions of the law, which mandated either a lump sum be provided at the start of the year or specific accrual provisions.

Our employees were strongly opposed to changing our plan, however, and made it clear they preferred our existing leave structure. After some trial and error, we found a way to restructure our more generous plan to meet the new requirements while ensuring our hard-working employees were not penalized by the law’s well-intentioned mandates.

Needless to say, the process created significant headaches for our business, including costly hours of additional staff time and paperwork. Some employers in our situation might have decided to take the simplest course: Comply with the Maryland state law, and do no more and no less, potentially reducing paid leave benefits for many employees. But we are committed to attracting and retaining the top talent, and such an approach would hurt our business and our employees.

Now, imagine going through this fire drill in any number of states or localities that each have their own leave laws. For example, if CRC were to consider any new locations in Montgomery County, which has its own sick leave law, we would have to revise our policies and payroll systems in a costly effort that would create additional uncertainty for our employees. Further, we would have to determine whether or not to apply the most generous leave to all employees or maintain separate handbooks and payroll accrual systems for pockets of employees based on location.

As Congress weighs a variety of proposals to expand access to paid leave and other important workplace benefits for employees, one bill stands above the rest. The Workflex in the 21st Century Act (H.R. 4219), introduced by Rep. Mimi Walters, a California Republican, takes an innovative approach to paid leave and work flexibility that reflects the needs of both employers and employees in the modern workplace.

As a human resource professional, I see both sides in the workplace. Employers want to — and increasingly are — offering more paid time off and related benefits, but they also struggle to navigate a complex maze of state and local rules that require different, and sometimes competing, elements of the plans they offer. Meanwhile, employees need more options and flexibility to meet the demands of their professional and personal lives.

The Workflex legislation is a first-of-its-kind national framework that would help employers and employees. It provides a combination of guaranteed paid leave and increased workplace flexibility options — the only proposal to do so. Employers would get more certainty from having to follow just one national rule, and employees would have access to paid leave and workplace flexibility options that exceed most state mandates.

The all too common issue that my company encountered is why national paid leave legislation is necessary and why employers need Congress to pass the Workflex bill. By offering one standard, it will provide clarity and certainty for employers like CRC that already go above and beyond the benefits ensured under this increasingly complex maze of state and local laws and regulations. And it will protect employees from changes to plans they already enjoy.

It’s time for a single, national standard that delivers more flexibility and paid leave for employees and more certainty for employers. It’s time for the Workflex in the 21st Century Act.

Crystal Frey is vice president of human resources at Continental Realty Corporation in Baltimore. Her email is cfrey@crcrealty.com.

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